Russ is after title that got away Baseball: Atholton pitcher/first baseman Chris Russ is working toward getting a second shot at a state title after losing in last season's championship game.

April 06, 1997|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Atholton's Chris Russ likes to fish for bass at Rocky Gorge Reservoir near his home.

One of the things he thinks about during those fishing expeditions is winning a state baseball championship.

He came close last season -- pitching the Class 3A state championship game, but losing a heart-breaker to Bel Air, 3-2.

Atholton has the kind of team this season that has a shot at getting that far again, and Russ is one of the key ingredients.

The 6-foot-2, 165-pound senior left-hander elicits nothing but respect from opposing players and coaches -- and for good reason.

The first game of this season, against perennial county power Glenelg, Russ struck out 12 and threw a five-hitter in a 13-5 victory. He picked up his second victory Wednesday against Hammond.

In 12 innings he has struck out 18, walked seven, given up 11 hits and compiled a 1.75 ERA.

"He's pitched well the last two years for us," Atholton coach Kevin Kelly said. "He's a gamer. He's smart. And I have a lot of confidence in him. He's a good pitcher when he's throwing strikes. And his hitting has been a pleasant surprise this season."

Russ, who also plays first base, is batting .563 (9-for-16) and has eight RBIs, four doubles and one triple.

Last season Russ wasn't used much as a pitcher early in the season, but went 4-2 and made second-team all-county.

Russ said his pitching strengths are his control and his breaking ball.

"My control is a little better this season, but my velocity is not where it should be," he said. "My back started hurting me late last summer and last fall.

"I went to a chiropractor and he fixed something that he said was wrong with my pelvis, and my back is better now. I'm confident of my back, but my velocity is not completely back."

He pitched for the Columbia Reds 15-16 team during the summer, and compiled a 9-2 record. After the Reds were eliminated from the playoffs, the Maryland Orioles picked him for the CABA Tournament in Wisconsin, where teams from 13 states competed.

"It was pretty good competition and we held our own," Russ said.

Russ has decided to attend Towson State, and received a $2,000 scholarship to pitch for the Tigers.

He'll join former teammate Jason Sandner and current teammate Sean Williams at Towson.

Williams is Russ' best friend and has helped motivate him to work harder at baseball.

"As a freshman Chris had terrible work habits," Reds 17-18 coach Larry Thompson said. "But Williams and Sandner convinced him he had talent and he changed his work habits and has reaped the rewards. He's a tremendous pitcher with a tremendous curve, and Towson signing him early is the biggest steal in Maryland."

Thompson compared Russ' potential to that of former Howard pitcher Tony Saunders, now the fifth starter for the Florida Marlins.

"He could be another Saunders," said Thompson, a pro scout. "He's better as a senior than Saunders was."

Russ said he learned his curveball from his older brother, Steve, a former Atholton player and a 1988 graduate.

"My brother's best friend was Danny Miles, who was a good pitcher for Atholton, and he taught my brother how to throw a curve."

Russ didn't turn 17 until Oct. 25 and that makes him one of the youngest seniors in the league.

Russ has pitched for the Reds since 13-14 ball, and before that he played for the Atholton Youth Recreation Association.

He played youth league soccer and basketball, and one year of junior varsity football, but concentrates solely on baseball now.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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